Architecture as Global Practice: Expert Culture in the Cold War

This seminar focuses on the transfer of architectural knowledge from the socialist East and the capitalist West towards the post-colonial South during the Cold War. Particular attention will be given to architects and urban planners from socialist countries who worked in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia from the 1960s to the 1980s, contextualized by the work of Western architects, such as Constantinos Doxiadis or Michel Ecochard. This will include the focus on specific building technologies, design tools, prefabricated systems, research methodologies, and teaching curricula; as well as an investigation of the formal and social imaginaries that architects brought to cities such as Abu Dhabi, Accra, Algiers, Baghdad, Damascus, Kabul, Kuwait, Lagos, and Tripoli.

The seminar aims to understand the emergence of architecture and urban planning as a global practice during the Cold War. Addressing alternative forms of transnational cooperation such as socialist internationalism and the Non-Aligned Movement, it investigates the activities of design practitioners who operated in parallel to Western-dominated modes of globalization. Within these networks, experts were confronted with processes of urbanization increasingly affecting the planet as a whole: the “complete urbanization of society” as Henri Lefebvre called it. This necessitated a revision of post-war modernism, its design principles, formal preferences, modes of representation, scales of governance, and systems of value. Eschewing simplistic accounts that equate globalization with Americanization, this seminar offers a more heterogeneous genealogy of the material, economic, and institutional conditions of urbanization around the planet and highlights the agency of architects in formulating alternative scenarios of modernization.